Pam and I have been friends for 13 years. We’ve taken at least a dozen sermon-writing retreats together until Pam had the nerve to retire and move to the beach (where—by the way—she and her lovely husband have hosted my entire family for 2 vacations). I miss those sermon retreats. We laughed, cried, and sought the Lord together.
Pam is a gift-giver. If she’s your friend, you know this. She MacGyvers her way into your personal info and regularly surprises you. This is TMI, but this post is vulnerability-city for me so here goes: One time we were talking undergarments and how the best, supportive, and most lovely brands are so expensive—my favorite brand in particular. Pam took note and for years picked up my favorite brand for me…just because she delights in giving people extravagant gifts. The extravagance is an expression of her love.
Years ago on my birthday Pam wanted to treat me for lunch so we agreed to meet halfway. I selected a small restaurant—it seemed to have local flair—and was excited to see Pam. We arrived near the same time and walked in together, and I kid you not people stared at us uninterrupted for 30 seconds. Eventually I waved at the people to break their gaze. I shrugged it off and we sat down at a booth. The waitress brought our menus and I excused myself to the bathroom. As I was returning to our table, a man looked at me and said it:
He said it loud and clear for all to hear.
I stopped, gritted my teeth, and felt anger course through my body. I don’t know if I’ve ever been that angry. I stood and stared at him—returning the gaze we'd been given as we entered the restaurant. And then—I’m ashamed to say—I grew afraid of him. He was a big man with a posse of people at his table, so I looked away and returned to our booth having said nothing. I am still ashamed.
And then the craziest thing happened.
A woman seated at the man's table came over to our booth. She sat down with Pam and me. She said nothing to Pam, but apologized—to me—for the man having said the word. “He wasn’t talking about you,” she said, as if this somehow absolved him, as if it was okay to use the n-word as long as it didn’t apply to present company.
Later I told Pam what the man said and her response gutted me.
“That’s normal,” she said.
I didn’t know this. I should have, but I didn’t.
I grieved the rest of the day. I cried, felt shame, and obsessed over what I should or could have done differently.
That day opened my eyes. I didn’t want to believe people could be so cruel, but that’s just naïve and likely a result of my privilege as a white person.
Since then I’ve learned more about blatant racism, and also the myriad of micro-aggressions coddled by our culture. I’m still learning.
Why do I tell you this now? I cannot stop thinking about Ahmaud Arbery.
Did you know black families are afraid to let their sons and daughters jog in the street for fear someone might think they’re a burglar AND SHOOT THEM?
This is their normal.
That should break our hearts and lead us to action. What is your action? What is mine? I’m praying God will show me the way. Will you join me in that prayer?